JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Vietnam veterans Charles Green and Rick DuMiller spend three mornings a week at a food pantry on Jacksonville’s Westside, where they distribute bags of food and a bit of hope to financially struggling Jacksonville families.
They have given years of their lives to the country through their collective military service — during which DuMiller lost his lower left leg to shrapnel from a grenade — but also want to give back.
“I’ve been blessed,” said Green, 69, who served four years in the Marine Corps but never had to leave the States, and later had a postal service career.
“When you see all those vehicles in line, see the parents and grandparents, the children, it just makes you feel good, knowing with the food we’re providing they’ll be able to take that money (they would have used for groceries) and pay the power bill or the mortgage,” he said.
The food pantry is called The Lord’s Pantry and is run by nonprofit Community Health Outreach, which also has medical and dental clinics and a donation-driven baby clothing store on its Timuquana Road campus. At the pantry, donated food is bagged and handed out to anyone who drives up, as many as 500 families a week within the last year.
Pantry manager Green and assistant manager DuMiller, as well as longtime volunteer and former staffer Leroy Lallemand, “are the unsung heroes,” said Virginia Pillsbury, the outreach’s assistant director.
“Not only have they served our country with courage and strength, they continue to serve our community during a time when they could all be enjoying retirement,” she said. “They are the team that holds the food pantry together. They serve God and they serve our clients with the same mission focus that they had in the military. … and I salute them for their hard work, their integrity and their compassion.”
Initially the three men came to the pantry as customers.
Four years ago Green drove a friend there to get food. As they waited in line, he saw the volunteers could use some help so he got out of his car and started helping. He came back another day to do the same and kept coming back.
One day in 2013, Air Force veteran DuMiller walked up asking for food and walked away with a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter.
“I was hungry,” he said.
On later visits he received more food, as well as care at the nearby dental clinic. Also, Green has driven him to Veterans Affairs appointments to get artificial legs and a motorized wheelchair.
Now assistant manager, DuMiller, 66, said he enjoys the work and tries to show his happiness by wearing a smile, along with his artificial leg.
“They hooked me up,” he said. “It’s fun, really fun. You meet so many families.”
Lallemand, 67, who spent 25 years in the Navy, was a regular pantry customer, then began volunteering.
“I’m giving back to my community,” he said. “They helped my family out when I was in the military. You’re helping somebody put food on the table, feed their kids.”